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2019 Australian Search and Rescue Awards

Wednesday 11 September 2019
We are pleased to announce this year’s recipients of the National Search and Rescue Council’s Australian Search and Rescue Awards. 
natsar award winners

The awards are presented on behalf of the NATSAR Council in recognition of outstanding contribution to search and rescue within the Australian region.

The NATSAR Council is a cooperative body responsible for the national search and rescue arrangements in Australia. AMSA chairs the council whose members consist of delegates from the Australian Defence Force, State, Territory and Federal Police.

This year AMSA is jointly hosting the award ceremony with South Australia Police in Adelaide on Tuesday night (10 September) to recognise the 25 recipients that were instrumental in saving the lives of six people. AMSA General Manager of Response and NATSAR Chair, Mark Morrow said the selfless and brave actions of this year’s recipients in the face of imminent danger is nothing short of inspiring and is worthy of national recognition.

'Their willingness to respond and the ability to maintain a calm and measured approach when confronted by danger, is a testament to the character of these recipients.'

'When someone is faced with a choice to take action or not, we see what people are made of – their bravery, professionalism and dedication are truly inspirational. These recipients have an enormous capacity to hold focus in spite of the risks and as a result six people are alive today because of their actions,' Mr Morrow said.

There are four categories of awards, the Professional Search and Rescue award, Professional Commendation, Non-professional Search and Rescue award and Non-professional Commendation. Details of the search and rescue events that prompted the nominations for each award are outlined below:

Professional search and rescue award

Recipient/s: Senior Constable C Williams, Constable N Mackintosh, Paramedic E Byers, Pilot C Fahey, Senior Constable C Herbert, Constable A Oakden, Constable C Rennie, Constable P Vanderwal. 

Incident details: Totem Pole, Cape Hauy Tasmania rescue

On 11 February 2019, a 26-year-old male climber had to be winched to safety when he suffered spinal injuries attempting to cross from Totem Pole back to Cape Hauy. The Totem Pole, a popular spot for climbers, is a coastal stack that is approximately 65 metres tall and defined by steep, mostly vertical columns of rock.

The Tasmanian Police rescue helicopter (POLAIR) flew to the rescue after the man activated his emergency beacon. He was in a precarious position approximately 45m down the Totem Pole on a narrow rock ledge. Two POLAIR crew members were winched down to assess the man’s injuries which were found to be quite severe.

The sunlight was fading and extreme wind and swell conditions along with the danger of where the man was located on the cliff face meant that the helicopter could not conduct a safe winch.

A team of four specialist search and rescue officers were sent in to move the man from the rock ledge to the cliff top where he could then be safely winched into the helicopter. The officers worked tirelessly throughout the night and eventually managed to safely attach the patient to a stretcher where he was hauled up to the cliff top.

The man was taken to the Royal Hobart Hospital, suffering multiple spinal fractures, broken ribs and a broken ankle.

During this incident a total of 18 winches were conducted by the crew of POLAIR who, together with the four rescue personnel, contended with sheer cliffs, deteriorating weather conditions, and complete darkness. The crew were exposed to extremely challenging conditions yet under extreme pressure managed to bring the patient to safety.

Professional commendation award

Recipient/s: Port Macquarie Volunteer Marine Rescue – Garry White, Graham Gibbs, Reg McGlashan, Yolanda Bosschieter, Tony Hallett, Chris Condon, Bill Richardson, Rob Breskal, Owen Coulls, Randall Gawne, Greg Davies. 

Incident details: Aussie Joy, Port Macquarie NSW rescue

Around 1am on Sunday 14 April 2019, the Port Macquarie Volunteer Marine Rescue (VMR) received a mayday call requesting urgent assistance from the Aussie Joy, a cruiser that had struck rocks resulting in three crew members being seriously injured.

A search was initiated by the Marine Area Command with Mid North Coast Police. The Marine Rescue NSW and Westpac Rescue Helicopter were also tasked to assist.

At the time of the incident, the last position of the vessel was unknown. Marine Rescue radio operators Garry White and Graham Gibbs under the supervision of Unit Commander Greg Davies, applied local knowledge to locate the damaged vessel.

Regional Manager Randall Gawne coordinated with NSW Water Police and engaged volunteer crew to join the rescue.

VMR crew Reg McGlashan (skipper), Yolanda Bosschieter, Tony Hallett, Chris Condon and Bill Richardson sailed to the cruiser and secured a tow line. Two of their crew boarded the vessel to assist the injured crew on the Aussie Joy.

A tow was organised and while VMR crew where assisting a person with suspected spinal injuries the vessel began to sink. The two VMR crew managed to tread water in complete darkness and keep the spinal injury patient afloat until a rescue vessel arrived.

Three men from the Aussie Joy were taken to Port Macquarie Hospital suffering from chest trauma, broken bones, facial injuries and severe spinal injuries. The volunteer rescue team risked their own lives to bring all three men to safety.

The brave and courageous efforts of the Port Macquarie VMR members ensured the success of the rescue mission, and resulted in three lives saved.

Non-professional Search and Rescue Award

Recipient/s: Athol Stuart Beer, Stewart John Geard, Craig Charles Neville, Anita Denholm, Kade Wooldrage

Incident details: Parson Falls, Tasmania rescue

On Sunday 21 April 2019, a woman fell from the top of Parsons Falls, near Lake Mackenzie, Tasmania and suffered significant injuries.

The Westpac Rescue Helicopter, a HEMS helicopter, a road ambulance, local uniform and search and rescue police were tasked to assist with the rescue.

Five members of the public provided significant lifesaving assistance to the patient before the arrival of emergency services.

Mr Beer saw the woman slip and fall from the top of the waterfall. She tumbled over ledges and rocks and landed face down in the water at the base of the falls. Mr Beer scrambled some 15 metres down the rock face before jumping the remaining 10 metres into the water to save the woman. He managed to swim approximately 20 metres with her to shore. His quick actions saved the woman from drowning whilst unconscious.

Mr Geard, the woman’s husband, left the falls and located a petrol station nearby where he made contact with emergency services.

Mr Neville climbed to the bottom of the falls and moved the woman to a rock ledge and held her in position for around two hours until she was moved onto a rescue stretcher.

Ms Denholm, a registered nurse managed the woman’s injuries and airway until rescuers arrived. She also provided much needed support to Mr Beer and Mr Neville.

Mr Wooldrage walked the patient’s three daughters—who were clearly distressed, back to the car park before returning to the rescuers. The aircrew stated, '…he made our job a lot more efficient. He was very calm and collected, followed directions, and was extremely willing to help.'

The attending paramedics later stated that the quick decision-making and response from the bystanders made a significant impact, and almost certainly saved the patient’s life.

Non-professional Commendation

Recipient: Mark Sampson

Incident details: Point Vernon, QLD Catamaran Rescue

Around 2pm on 13 January 2019, Mark Sampson and a friend were sailing on a 14ft catamaran when it capsized one kilometre from shore near Point Vernon, throwing them into the water.

Mark’s friend was unable to swim but was fortunately wearing a life jacket. Fearing the worst Mark ensured his friend was safely clinging to the upturned vessel before going for help. After an hour of swimming Mark finally made it to shore where he was able to raise assistance.

Mark was uncertain how watertight the vessel was and two Volunteer Marine Rescue vessels were tasked to the rescue. AMSA was advised and tasked a Challenger rescue jet and Rescue 522 helicopter from Bundaberg to the search area.

The Volunteer Marine Rescue located Mark’s friend still grasping to the upturned vessel. The other rescue vessels were called off and Mark’s friend was taken to Hervey Bay Hospital suffering shock and dehydration and was released that afternoon.

After the incident, Mark’s friend vowed '…never to go sailing again!'

Mark risked his own life to save his friend - a courageous act and a positive outcome for all.